It’s up there. All your information. It’s floating around us. Or at least that’s what most of us think when we hear about ‘cloud solutions.’ Everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon. Cloud services are popping up all over the place. But is it just a fad; a passing phase like the MiniDisc? Or is it here to stay? And how is it transforming the world of BI?
To get the inside scoop, I chatted with our very own Head of Product – and BI guru – Dr. Guy Levy-Yurista.
His take on the matter: BI cloud solutions are here to stay, but not as you necessarily expect. Read this insightful interview to understand why.
Q: Can you briefly explain what a ‘cloud solution’ or ‘cloud computing’ are?
“If you open up Wikipedia (trusted to a degree, for sure), you’ll see cloud computing defined as ‘a type of Internet-based computing that provides shared computer processing resources and data to computers and other devices on demand.’
In other words, it’s a way to outsource your IT headaches to someone else, for a fee. This ‘someone’ will handle your entire IT infrastructure at their end, giving you more flexibility; the ability to increase or decrease the number of resources you’re utilizing in a very flexible manner.”
Q: How would you say the cloud is impacting the BI space?
“When there’s a new technology fad, everyone hops on the bandwagon and tries to figure out how to apply it to their field. The cost of missing out on a major cost saving, groundbreaking technological innovation is too much to bear. The same happened with cloud technology in industries across the board.
And at some point, someone said, ‘Everyone is talking about the cloud. Let’s put BI in the cloud and claim victory.’ So companies started offering pure BI solutions in the cloud, where customers’ data would be stored on a big machine somewhere, sitting in a data center – like, for example, AWS or Azure.
This created a multitenancy environment where many customers were running their BI and Analytics (BI&A) implementation on the same application running on the same cloud machine, and all the data flowed to that same machine and application. Pretty quickly, though, people realized that there were several limitations to the so-called ‘pure cloud,’ most noticeable of these limitations have to do with the notion of data gravity.
You see, massive amounts of data are used in BI&A. And the more data there is, the closer you need to be to that data, computation-wise. You need to upload the raw data to the cloud, download the processed data from the cloud, and so on. So there is a massive amount of traffic when it comes to BI cloud solutions, which is also often associated with hidden costs. There are also other hidden costs that has to do with the specific architectural structure of AWS/Azure/cloud-provider-of-choice but I’ll skip those for now (you’re welcome 🙂 ).
But the main point is: if multiple people use the same application on the same machine and all run queries against different data sets at the same time, you end up choking it pretty quickly. What’s the solution?
Cloud is now headed into a hybrid mode, where you have a combination of on-prem data, data-stores and a cloud platform – and you can easily switch between these situations. Essentially, hybrid cloud solutions alleviate some IT concerns, but don’t remove IT completely. At the same time, it doesn’t require customers to upload their entire data – which is often very sensitive data – into a cloud environment.”
Q: Some say that ‘Hybrid Cloud’ is a buzzword which means ‘we actually don’t offer a cloud solution but we want to say that we do.’ What are your thoughts on that?
“In short: a hybrid cloud is definitely a cloud. But it is a cloud offering with distributed resources; some of them are on-prem on the customer side and others are on the cloud. Think of it as the best of both worlds.
If we do another trusty Wikipedia search, you’ll get this definition: ‘Hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more clouds (private, community, or public) that remain distinct entities but are bound together.’ So essentially, a hybrid cloud is a solution which allows you to avoid some of the downfalls of a pure cloud solution.”
Q: You mentioned data gravity. What are some of the other disadvantages of a pure cloud solution?
“So data gravity is the major one. But other disadvantages have to do with PII (personally identifiable information), PHI (Protected Health Information), PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) or other costly identifiable information and sensitive data that you don’t want to get off premise.
Or, for example, if you have an EU entity, then you are not allowed to take certain kinds of this data out of the EU (see General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for more info). So there are now a lot of laws and regulations, globally, that limit your ability to use a pure cloud solution or data centers located remotely.
Now if you are a cloud provider and you don’t want to establish cloud or storage presence in the EU, then you can still leverage the local storage presence of a customer in the EU, but at the same time have a computation presence somewhere else.
So there are a lot of ways to keep in line with laws and regulations and still provide the huge advantages of cloud technology.”
Q: What do you think these advantages are? What are some of the reasons someone will want to move their BI to the cloud (pure or hybrid)?
“Realistically, the prime advantage of cloud is that it allows you to rapidly scale up or down services so that you can get your offering out to vast quantities of people very, very quickly, and at the same time react quickly and efficiently to changing market demands. Let’s say you’ve had a whole bunch of new customers sign up and now need to provide them with, for example, analytics. With a cloud solution you don’t need to spin up new machines or put IT to work. You simply take a machine and clone it in the cloud. It’s a one click experience.
Networking is easy. People like AWS or Azure provide you with the ability to automatically scale up and down resources as needed. So there are a lot of operational effectiveness and efficiency gains to using cloud.”
Q: How can Sisense, or any other BI cloud tool, ensure that security is not an issue?
“One way to ensure BI security is to build a cloud instance dedicated to one customer only and then let that customer manage this instance, so that no one else can touch the data. There are now advanced certificate and encryption mechanisms that have been put in place to ensure this outcome. Then the BI service provider can play around with the IT or the network, but it cannot touch the data. This way the data is fully under the control of the customer, but the benefits of cloud scalability and efficiency are still at play.”
Q: What kind of things would you suggest someone who works, for example, in the healthcare or financial sectors – where data security is top priority – look for in a BI cloud solution?
“First of all, they should figure out why they want to use a BI cloud solution. Is it just because they’ve been hearing this buzzword all over the shop or is it because of a real need? If there is a real need – e.g. efficiency reasons – then that’s great. But they need to get familiar with the security and privacy concerns, as well as the regulations they need to meet in their own sector, environment, or geography.
Then they need to plan accordingly for a pure cloud or hybrid cloud solution and understand the different levels of attention to sensitivities needed. Do they want a managed service where someone else is managing their machines for them? Or do they want to do a BYOL (Bring Your Own License), where they buy the license and then just get machines while they manage the cloud instance completely on their end?”
They also need to figure out if they want a multi-tenant service, where they don’t mind sharing the same machine with other companies – or if they want a dedicated instance service.
Again, these are all different flavors and each customer will require a different solution which is the best fit for them.“
Q: More generally speaking, what would you say are the top two things that you should look for when choosing a BI cloud solution?
“That’s a very interesting question.
So, the number one concern should actually be the quality of the BI solution. Not the cloud offering type. Because you are not getting a cloud, you’re getting BI in the cloud. So, first of all, you want the best BI or analytics solution, by definition. That’s the most important thing that you should hunt for.
The other critical thing to understand is that after knowing you have the best BI solution at hand, you need to figure out whether the cloud offering of that BI provider best addresses your needs and if so using which cloud flavor.
Sit down quietly and say ‘alright, these are my expectations from the best possible BI solution that fits my needs, and these are my cloud expectations.’ If their cloud solution fit your needs, great. If not, are you willing to compromise? Are you willing to change? Here’s where you need to reach a tradeoff.
But it’s a tradeoff that begins by getting the best BI tool for your needs, not the best cloud for your needs.”
Q: Looking forward, do you see cloud as something that is here to stay or do you think that it’s more of a passing phase?
“The cloud is here to stay. There is no question about that. When I talk to people about cloud, I usually tell them this:
A cloud, really, is just a data center somewhere. You just don’t see it, so you don’t worry about it. But ultimately, it is something physical on the ground. It’s not something mystical that floats in the air. And a cloud on the ground is really fog. So drive slowly, or you might find yourself crashing when driving through that fog.”
Want to understand more about selecting the right BI cloud solution for your needs? Here are three truths about cloud BI you need to know.